The "Food-Family Connection": Letting Go at Last
I felt happy and fulfilled while I ate the food I loved. And then,
naturally, I was miserable, hating myself for what I had done. See a pattern
here? Food was feeding not only my need for close relationships but also my
need -- oh, how it hurts to admit this! -- to feel sorry for myself.
To feel like a victim.
Do you ever feel afraid to lose your excess weight? I sure did. And no
wonder: Losing the weight meant losing the one close relationship I could
depend on to always be there and make me feel good. So even when I did achieve
a substantial weight loss, I gained it back quickly, usually with a few more
pounds for good measure.
I even remember sometimes feeling a sense of relief about regaining
my weight, even as I despaired at seeing my body swell and become distorted
with fat again. I wonder if that sounds familiar to you, too.
Well, that's how I lived, how I got through life, for so many years. Then,
in therapy, two big changes happened:
1) I learned that I was a pretty nice person after all, someone other people
would generally like if they had the chance. So I didn't have to put up
"permanent" defenses like fat, humor at other people's expense, and
isolating from others. I could relax and be myself, and most of the time things
would be OK, just as they are for most people, most of the time.
2) I found within myself true loving feelings for my family, particularly
for my mother and father, both now deceased. Most surprising was coming to love
my mother, a beautiful and funny woman who apparently found it unnerving to
have a bright, intuitive, and often rebellious child around. What did I see, or
sense, that she didn't want others to know about? I don't know (although
previously, in my role as "victim of the family," I thought I did). And
it no longer matters. What matters is that almost certainly her harsh and
unrelenting criticism of me was really directed at herself, not at me, a child
who wasn't old enough to have done anyone any harm. Long before, her own family
had unwittingly put that self-criticism into her head, and heart.
I understand now that my mother and father came to having children burdened
with their own pain of unmet childhood needs -- and they lived in a time when
professional help wasn't readily available as it is today. And so they passed
their burdens along to me.
I also realize that as a mother, I burdened my own two daughters in similar
ways. They're grown now, raising their own children -- my grandchildren. But by
"giving back" my own emotional burden, and in the process becoming a
more real and loving person, I'm very hopeful that their lives and
relationships with their children will be stronger as well.